Retired Delphi Worker and Rehabilitation Unit Patient
"I credit a lot of my progress to the rehab staff because they push me really hard. They don’t let me give up or say anything negative. They’re just excellent."
Dean Stratton Is on the Road to Recovery
Dean Stratton has an ambitious goal in mind, and he is confident he will reach it with the help of the staff of the Rehabilitation Unit of MidMichigan Medical Center – Midland.
“In two or three months, I want to be able to walk a little bit with a cane or walker,” Dean said. “If I can get to the point where I can do everyday things, that would be great.”
The 54-year-old is partially paralyzed and using a wheelchair after an injury to his spinal cord and the surgery that it necessitated.
Dean had back and neck trouble at various times throughout his adult life. As a student-athlete, he popped disks. Later in life, he fell from the second story of a building that was under construction onto a pile of 2-by-4s.
“My back hurt from repeated injuries. Arthritis ate up a little more of it,” Dean said. “I went to specialists about my back problems over the years and they always said to just keep going as long as I could.”
In October 2008, Dean was stepping off a trailer in his yard and “my back just let loose,” he said. Disks had ruptured, pinching his cauda equina, a bundle of nerve roots at the lower end of the spinal cord. When the cauda equina is injured, the patient experiences severe pain, numbness and motor loss in the lower body.
“It felt like a knife in my back. I was crawling around, trying to find a comfortable position and of course, there wasn’t one,” Dean said.
An ambulance was called and the Rhodes resident was taken to MidMichigan Medical Center–Midland. He was in surgery the next day to remove the ruptured disks and fuse together some of the other disks.
“When I got out of surgery, the first thing I thought was that I’d walk out of the hospital. I didn’t know anything about spinal cord injuries. Now, I’m a lot more educated,” Dean said. “I’ll probably be in rehab for a year. This is not a quick-fix deal.”
For the first three weeks of rehabilitation, he had three-hour sessions every day as an outpatient. Now, Dean goes three times a week. During rehab, Dean grasps a parallel bar on either side of his body and practices walking. Among the lessons he is learning is not to use his hips to swing his legs forward, but to retrain his leg muscles to do the work. He also uses a rickshaw weight machine during rehab to strengthen muscles necessary to transfer to and from wheelchairs.
“Rehab is really hard work. It’s not really painful, but it just wipes you out,” Dean said. “It’s a love-hate relationship. I’d rather not have to go, but I know it’s helping me. I see an improvement every day.”
Dean is a Delphi retiree who operates a business from his home, making and selling products for hunters, such as deer calls. He and his wife, Cheryl, live in a tri-level home, so some adjustments were made to allow Dean to get around more easily at home.
“The Rehabilitation Unit people came to the house and taught me how to get upstairs,” Dean said.
Dean sits on a lower step and uses his arms and shoulders to pull his body up each stair, being careful not to strain his back during the process. The rehab staff also is working to teach Dean to perform routine tasks, such as getting in and out of bed and bathing himself. Because the cauda equina injury has affected Dean’s ability to urinate, he was trained to use a catheter several times a day to relieve pressure on his bladder and ensure that it doesn’t become distended.
“I’m getting pretty independent,” Dean said.
Over the years, Dean underwent rehabilitation elsewhere for previous back, neck and knee injuries, but the care and support he gets from the MidMichigan staff is the best he’s ever experienced.
“They are just so focused and they won’t give me any slack,” Dean said. “I just can’t say enough about them.”
Rehabilitation at MidMichigan has one goal – to help patients achieve the highest possible degree of independence after an injury, illness or disability. We help most people through convenient appointments at one of our twelve outpatient locations. We also offer inpatient rehabilitation for more complex conditions such as stroke, head and spinal cord injuries. For more information about MidMichigan's Rehabilitation Services visit www.midmichigan.org/rehabilitation.